Sunday, June 12, 2011

The Addict and Me: Part One

If I think of him as an addict, then it becomes clearer and I can let it go; I can let him go, a little bit more, a little bit more . . . .

The first time I experienced him having a relapse, I saw it coming.  I saw it coming from miles and weeks away.  I am, occasionally, a very regular keeper of a journal.  I was mulling over his issues in my journal (OK, obsessing), and I wrote:  He is going to drink. If I was writing in my journal that he was going to drink, how much stronger was it in his mind?   I didn’t even know all that much about alcoholism, but I could see his issues colliding and compounding and the easy answer was there.  A straw cropped up and the camel’s back broke. A hurtful email arrived.  He got it on a Friday night and shared it with me over the phone, and I spent the whole weekend fretting about it.  I did.  What did this have to do with me?  I worried.  I hoped he was talking to his sponsor, I hoped he was talking to someone.  He sure wasn’t talking to me.  And there I was, waiting by the phone.  Frustrated with myself, but doing it anyway.  Damn it.  The positive for me was that I wrote a poem.  I decided that if I was going to sit and wait for a phone call that I might as well write something.  And I did.  And I liked it.  A lot.  It was Bird in a Box.  I think now that it might be a crap name for my blog, but at the time I was really enamored with the poem.  I made something out of frustration.  I made something in spite of being frustrated.

OK, so he didn’t call me all weekend.  I knew he was in trouble.  He sent me a brief message late Friday or early Saturday morning that he wanted to talk, but he never called, messaged, nothing after that.

He called me Monday night.  He seemed a little odd, not the warm soul I knew, but someone more petty, more paranoid.  He was living with family members.  When they came home, all hell broke loose.  Our phone call was interrupted.  He called me back later to confess that he had been busted drinking in a house where there was zero-tolerance.  It was surreal.  I was on the phone with someone I felt I knew well, yet had never met, and suddenly felt I didn’t know at all.  I knew that a relapse was a possibility, but from 1,000 miles away, it felt like, well, 1,000 miles away.  He could have kept it from me.  He could have been drinking all along.  How would I have known? 

What I did know was my reaction.  I saw myself being sucked into this drama; spending whole weekends, lifetimes, waiting and worrying.  And for what?  I knew why we weren’t together:  his addiction would eat me alive.  I couldn’t help but be sucked into that vortex, because that was my nature, that was my idea of love.  And it would do me no good.  I gave it a couple days of thought and then told him straight up:  We can’t be together because your drinking problem would swallow me whole.  I was shaking, but I had the courage to speak my mind.  It felt good. 

It’s three years on, now, and I’m still trying to make the break.  I don’t know why it is so hard.  I didn’t let go, for one thing.  I didn’t step away from that vortex.  I kept hanging on, hoping for something.  A year later I went to visit him.  We had made a little break from each other after the public relapse (private ones had occurred prior).  He re-committed himself to AA and staying sober and stopped talking to me.  After a year and a half of regular contact, it hurt.  I tried to bargain with God.  “We can be friends!”  “I know how to do this.”  “I’m not going to get sucked in.  I know my boundaries, how to stay safe.”  But, no dice: I got to live in my own life, and he, in his.  But my life was in turmoil.  In the space of two years, my long-term boyfriend left me, my mother died (my father had passed two years prior), both my dogs died and I was on the edge of losing my job.  I felt as though everything was flowing out and away from me.

In a therapy session, I had a vision of flying over mountains and feeling wonderfully free.
On a moonlit walk, it occurred to me that I could fly and go see him in the mountains.
I could just ask.  What would be the harm in asking?  I wanted some kind of comfort in my life.  I felt so lonely and abandoned.  I had made this friend and shared all sorts of deep confidences with him.  Couldn’t I just go see him once?
I thought I was following The Four Agreements:  Find the courage to ask questions and to express what you really want.  I sent out my request: Dear _____, Can I come see you?

Ah, but what did I really want?  My mind was muddled.

He called me.  After a few months of silence, I heard his voice.  He was amenable to me coming to visit.  He sounded excited.  There were details.  He wasn’t sure where he was going to be living, but he had a new job and things were going well.  We could work it out.  We could have fun.  I felt my heart as I got off the phone.  I was excited.  I had forgotten the way his voice made me feel.  Oh, dear.  I was in trouble.  I didn’t just want to go see a friend and get a hug and a “there, there.”  I felt my heart saying, “boom shaka laka.” I wanted Love.


  1. {"I wanted love."

    Yes. Love is the deepest need. Can't give it up, will continue to be hopeful and bargain our soul for it.
    Oh Jane, you have a major dilemma.

  2. "Always do your best; your best is going to change from moment to moment. Under any circumstance, simply do your best, and you will avoid self-judgment, self-abuse, and regret."

    Agreement #4.

    This is good, so good to witness you. Thank you. (For I witness myself too.)

  3. I had lunch with my aunt and uncle last week, who's son is drinking himself to death. They're quite well off -- he's a retired neurosurgeon -- but they haven't been able to do a damn thing for the son. Eventually they just bought a house for him and give him a stipend. ("I know we're enabling him," the father said, "but dammit, we're his parents,. They can't let go, even though they know he isn't going to live much longer. That's the way the disease spreads; everyone gets infected with the alcoholism in one way or another, watching a loved one suck the life out of everything with their lips around a whiskey bottle. Let him go. Let him go. Let him go. You can't do anything for him, and his love will always be tainted by the greater love he has for the bottle. As long as he's drinking. If he makes it back to recovery, good luck. You're dealing with damaged goods. And you know? He could get better and you worse. I hope you're keeping up with the Al-Anon. (Postscript from my lunch with my aunt and uncle last week: the uncle says, you know, for years I would be called in to operate on a DUI crash victim. Always in the operating room there would be that trio of smells -- antiseptic, blood, and alcohol. I remember when my son crashed his scooter drunk and had that head injury. Of walking into the ER and catching that same smell. My son ..." He teared up. The son didn't stop drinking after that; recently he crashed his scooter again drunk, went into detox afterward and almost died from a seizure. 9 out of 10 alcoholics die drunk. And there's always the possibility of complete reversal and change. But birds are better off flying alighting on other trees. Someone has that terrible love of the bottle and its bottle dreams will always be challenged loving a real person. Just my opinion, Brendan

  4. Thank you for your comments, and Brendan, for your insights. I was uneasy about posting this, but it felt necessary for me (and something that couldn't be "poemed").
    Yes, I am still keeping up the Al-Anon practice and I have a sponsor (for whom I am soooo grateful).
    I think I "know" that I need to let go and walk away, but I seem to be having a hard time with my emotions. It's useful for me to map this out. What I'm interested is my part in this. In this entry I can already see how I worked against my best interests with wishful thinking. I had a moment of clarity and then sabotaged it with desire. I don't say that in a bad way, just with curiosity.

    I'm not sure if I can tell the whole story here. I do want to make it about myself and maintain the anonymity of the alcoholic. That may prove too tricky to do.

    And, yeah, that bottle love. I think that was/is beyond my comprehension, that's where I got hung up many times.

  5. I had a moment of clarity and then sabotaged it with desire. curiosity, for sure. but now that you know of your sabotage you can't deny your strength.

    i've done this, jane. i've done this. i have to say, for me writing it out was the turning point. not whispering it to myself or arging or crying, but writing it out. somehow i knew in the act of writing it i was willing myself somewhere new. somehow seeing it written would force my hand, make myself see what i knew inside. it wasn't easy, but it worked.

    i can't help but think if i'd never written it i'd not have changed course.

    the pull of alcohol then is beyond your comprehension. i'm right in this? what i have learned is that we can never understand others motivations. it's just not possible, not really. nor yours. nor mine. close approximations, but sometimes i am a stranger even to myself.

    you're strong though, jane. and here it is.


  6. Erin, Thank you so much for your comment. I was leery of posting this, but as I wrote it out, I saw how it was serving me, helping my awareness. I thought I "knew" the story, but I gained more insight seeing it on the page and reading it through a couple of times.
    And, yes, the act of writing it out has changed the way I feel about the whole situation. I'm not where I was. It's a sort of exorcism, or, more of a making peace with the past and a ritual to "put it to bed."